In 2002, the brand new sculpting style of the JvC figures debuted. And, unsurprisingly, collectors hated it. The lack of o-ring was just unforgivable at the time. Hasbro, trying to save face, quickly announced that they'd be moving to an o-ring construction starting with Wave 2. However, this meant that Wave 2 of the line would be delayed. To both fill in the retail gap as well as appease collectors, Hasbro quickly threw together Wave 1.5. This was a wave of repainted vintage Joes that featured two popular army builders. Collectors accepted this bone that was thrown to them and enjoyed the wave. Shortly thereafter, Wave 2 appeared. Again, Hasbro had tossed two collector themed backs into the case assortment. Along with newly sculpted JvC figures, there was a repainted Alley Viper/Big Ben and Viper/Mirage pack. While only 1 per case, each figure was available in ample quantities for collectors of the age to get their fill. Of course, the focus was on the army builders. And, collectors tended to ignore and even loathe the Big Ben and Mirage figures. But, once again, Hasbro had thrown a couple of underappreciated gems into the line. And, the 2002 Mirage from Wave 2 is one of the better repaints of the 2000's.
In the summer of 1986, I moved all my toys out of my room and into our basement. My parents weren't big on air conditioning and the basement was much cooler in the hot summer months. Here, I created the first aspects of a larger Joe world. When I moved my toys back up to my room in the fall, I had a very different approach to the Joe vs. Cobra conflict. Among the new additions to my world were "commandos". Essentially, these were nameless, faceless cannon fodder minions of the Joe team. The named Joes were "warriors" who were excellent at their jobs and rarely died. Commandos, though, ranged from semi-competent to outright terrible in their performance. Thousands upon thousands of them perished against Cobra. Who, now equipped against a more equal adversary, was far more effective. The problem, though, was which figure to use as this army builder?
At first, I put together a lame kitbash of unloved parts leftover from broken figures. These guys were terrible and died often. I didn't want to make any of my good Joe figures these army builders as I liked all of my characters. Flash and Grand Slam would be appropriated for the army builders of a 3rd faction who aligned with Joes. And, eventually, I made the 1983 Ace a "Special Missions Commando" and the Mission to Brazil set figures followed as "Special Forces Commandos" (Leatherneck), "Diver Commandos" (Wet Suit) and Science Officers (Mainframe). Years later, I even made the 1994 Shipwreck a "Special Commission Commando" who was a group of soldiers just below the Joes who would, eventually, see promotion into the Joe ranks. But, for the basic commando, I was still stymied.
As my collection grew in the late 1990's, I tried various figures as this basic trooper. But, none would stick. Finally, in 2000, the blue Dusty with red beret became my default Commando. It was a figure that didn't really work as Dusty, but was amazingly cool. And, it was easy and cheap to army build. The main issue with that figure, though, is that he had no armor and was relatively unadorned with gear. In 2002, though, the first Mirage repaint was released. This figure looked like someone that I could use as my commando character. He was well colored, was covered in gear and armor and had a decent weapon. Plus, he was packed with a Viper so I'd definitely end up with a few of them. And, within a few weeks of me starting up a small squad, Mirage became my default Commando figure. When this more olive version was released in the fall, he just joined the ranks as a different coloring of the same character. And, to this day, Mirage figure represent army builders in my collection. They are more advanced than "greenshirts". But, still find themselves getting wasted by Cobras at various junctions.
In the early 2000's, Mega Marines were not a popular subset of the Joe brand. There were some collectors (like me!) who advocated that the molds were excellent and would prime candidates for a repaint. But, we were a minority. Someone at Hasbro, though, agreed that Mega Marines had some potential. Aside from Mirage, we'd eventually see the Mega Viper, Monster Blaster APC, Gung Ho, most of Clutch and even parts of Blast Off in the repaint era. Only the Cyber Viper and the larger sized monsters did not see any type of re-release. No other subset of figures got as much attention as Mega Marines did. Yet, it still feels that the subset didn't live up to its potential. Mirage certainly did. But, it still seems as if all the figures could be repainted again without being too redundant. But, as a whole, collectors rejected the Mega Marines repaints and didn't find them as compelling as excellent molds redone in more muted colors should have been. It was probably too soon. And, if Hasbro had released the Mirage repaints in 2018 instead of 2002, they'd have been much more popular.
Mirage's paint scheme is actually pretty good. His legs are the same green as the torso from the Wave 1.5 figure. So, you can kitbash a few different combos of Mirage figures together to make different sets of army builders. He has a G.I. Joe tampo on his right shoulder. I'm not a huge fan of this. But, the logo is crisp and shows how far paint masks had come by 2002. The torso is olive. But, being offset by the brighter green and silver makes the common color less noticable. Mirage's head features the clear goggles. While there's still many details left unpainted on the figures (grenades, ammo, wires and hoses, etc.), it's got enough details to showcase the mold's quality.
Mirage's gear is kind of generic. But, he has a few weapons that help detract from the blandness of it all. It seems that Hasbro lost the molds to the weapons trees that were endemic to the 1993 and 1994 figures. And, while the trees were reused a lot, Mirage's gear was less often seen and seemed to fit well with him. But, fortunately, the 1992 General Hawk rifle is also a very nice fit for the mold. The Big Ben rifle is a tougher sell. It is definitely Big Ben's. So, seeing it with other figures is less impressive. And, it was ended so overused by Hasbro that it lost any of it's wow! factor. The knife is fine. Some people will give to the Viper instead of Mirage, though. So, it's up for debate if the figure is complete without it or not. The most noteworthy factor about these weapons, though, is that they are a unique graphite color. There is a sheen to them not seen in other gear. And, this coloring is specific to this version of Mirage. So, when looking for a complete figure, be sure to ensure that the rifles and knife are the correct color and not the silver and black versions which were released with several different figures during this era.
Today, this Mirage remains in his original role. I pull him out occasionally for photo shoots. But, usually, he's in the background, supporting the main subjects of the photo. I have him on standby, though, and available for when the situation calls for his presence. My kids actually found a few of this figure sitting out a couple of years ago. They played with them for a few days. But, they managed to break the crotch on one of the figures. This is a rarity for the 2000's era softer plastic. But, they figured out how to do it. Their handling of the figure also showcased the fragility of the o-ring design. They handle modern Star Wars and Spinmaster Batman figures with no breakage. But, even Joes designed for more flexibility didn't withstand their play. So, there's an upside to some of the modern designs.
Mirage was overused by Hasbro. After his vintage release in 1993, the first repaint in Wave 1.5 debuted around May of 2002. This Wave 2 version followed in the early Fall. In 2003, Hasbro released another Mirage with the Hoverstrike vehicle. This awful toy featured the best Mirage who incorporates colors from the other figures and features yellow goggles that were omitted from the Wave 1.5 figure. Then, in 2005, Hasbro dropped Mirage into the Winter Operations set. On the surface, Mirage seemed an odd choice. But, the actual figure was made clear to showcase Mirage's purported abilities that match his codename. As something different, the Winter Ops figure is pretty strong. But, 4 releases in 4 years was a bit much and collectors never wanted to see Mirage again. I'll argue that Mirage never had a bad version of him released, though, so collectors have a lot of fun stuff to find for the character.
In this age of stupid G.I. Joe prices, Mirage remains a hold out. Even with a highly popular Viper repaint, you can buy carded figures for under $25. Dealers will sell mint and complete with filecard figures in the $8-$12 range. But, if you can find one left to the open market, it will go for half that price. Be wary as this Mirage includes Graphite colored accessories that were exclusive to the Wave 2 figures and not the more common silver version of the 1992 General Hawk rifle. But, as the price of this figure remains low, there's no reason for anyone to be missing him in their collection. Had this figure been released in 2019, he'd be hugely in demand with massive aftermarket spikes. But, the collectors of 2002 weren't quite ready to admit that later Joe molds and characters had merit. So, we can be grateful that we got figures like Mirage while also lament that other figures weren't popular enough to warrant an updated repaint.